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The Dos and Don’ts of Attending a Funeral

Many Americans have never experienced the loss of a family member or friend before, and therefore have never attended a funeral or memorial service. If you’ve never been to a funeral before and are expected to pay your respects at a loved one’s or a friend’s loved one’s services, it can feel daunting not knowing what to expect. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you and the family of the deceased feel at ease.

What do you say to the family?

Knowing a family is grieving a profound loss makes it difficult to find the right words to say to them. What could one possibly say to comfort someone in such a difficult time? Truth is, it’s not the words that really matter, it’s the act of being there to say anything at all.

Telling the family you’re sorry for their loss is a standard way of showing them you care and want to provide some comfort to them. But approaching them to shake or take their hands and not saying a word is showing them you care, too. Sharing a happy story about their loved one or telling them how much they meant to you can comfort a family more deeply than you know.

There are some things you should also avoid saying. Asking how a person died at their funeral is disrespectful and can cause unintended pain. Telling the bereaved, “I know how you feel” may have the best of intentions behind it, but can have the adverse effect. Even if you have experienced grief, no one’s loss is ever the same, and can cause the individual to feel robbed of the dignity of their unique relationship with their loved one.

One should also never ask a family how much a funeral cost.

What should I wear?

When you hear the word ‘funeral,’ you may think of a somber affair attended by guests clad in all black. Although this isn’t necessarily a wrong assumption, it’s not necessarily right, either. Many things dictate what is ‘appropriate’ attire for attending a funeral or memorial service.

Different religions and cultures have different clothes and colors of mourning. Memorial services and celebrations of life tend to be less formal than traditional funerals. A funeral on Cape Cod may look different than a memorial service in Hoboken. Many families may ask in the obituary or invitation that guests wear a certain color or style that was a favorite of the deceased. We’ve helped organize services where everyone was asked to wear their loved one’s favorite fashion: Hawaiian shirts.

At Chapman Funerals & Cremations, we don’t advise attendees on what to wear to a service. If the family hasn’t specified a dress code and you don’t know what to wear, it’s always respectful to wear a suit and tie or a plain dress. But what is more important than how you look is that you show up.

Should I bring my children?

We encourage families to bring their children to funeral services and to prepare them for what to expect ahead of time. Young minds and hearts are intelligent and resilient, and allowing them to participate in the rituals of gathering in loss helps teach them about life and how to grieve in healthy ways.

General Dos and Don’ts

Some basic rules of thumb when attending a funeral, memorial service, celebration of life, rosary, wake, etc.:

Don’t bring in food.
Do reserve the first two to three rows of seats for family and close friends.
Don’t forget to put your phone on silent.
Don’t snap pics of the funeral or put them on social media unless you’re close family.
Do feel ok to laugh when stories are shared.
Don’t be nervous by religious rituals that aren’t your own. Experience them with respect.

A funeral isn’t usually the type of event people want to have to attend, and feeling anxious about how to dress or what to say doesn’t help. But those things aren’t what truly matter. The greatest gift you can give a family in their time of need is your presence. It bears repeating: Show up. Let your being there show the family that you care about their loved one and their loss.

At all of our funeral home locations in Massachusetts – Falmouth, West Falmouth, Mashpee, Martha's Vineyard, Wareham, Harwich, Yarmouth, Marstons Mills, Nantucket, Bridgewater, and East Bridgewater – we are here to help support and guide our community during their times of need. If you have any questions about funeral or burial services, or are in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re always available.

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